web analytics
November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Loving Books, Fearing For Their Future


I love books. I love our sacred Jewish texts and the many splendid commentaries that accompany them, but in truth all leather-bound, gold-embossed books call out to me.

Verily, I am a person of the book. I read books, I write them, I consume them.

“Books,” wrote the historian Barbara Tuchman, “are the carriers of civilization…. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

I love libraries, their respect for work done in silence and solitude, the quiet solicitousness of librarians, their efficiency and kindness.

I love fine writing, great writing – the kind that lasts.

A book lover lives an enchanted life. She is someone who can, in an instant, escape her ordinary life, travel to any country on earth, time-travel to any century; she can enter a peasant’s hut or a king’s bedroom, witness a childbirth, a love affair, a murder, a coronation.

A book lover is someone who is never lonely, someone who may actually believe that fictional characters are more real, more alive, than “real” people, and that their stories are as important as the stories of our “real” lives.

If I want to know something about someone, I’ll find out what books they’ve read or are reading. Then I’ll inquire about their childhoods.

I admit it. I eat books. I possess them. I write in the margins and on the blank front and back pages. I plant my post-its everywhere.

Unlike a librarian, I am no longer willing to lend my books out. They are part of my daily life. At any given moment, my writing might require just that book. Also, they are so used, so lovingly battered. How can they unashamedly leave home?

In my lifetime, whenever I’ve made a major geographical move, I have been forced to give away books – anywhere from 2,000-10,000 at a given time. Once, a thousand books of mine were held up at the Khyber Pass – but that’s a story for another day.

I began reading when I was three years old and began writing when I was eight. My first poem was published when I was seventeen and my first article when I was twenty-three. I decided to get a Ph.D. and became a professor-psychotherapist (a “Viennese witch-doctor”) in order to support my writing habit.

I’ve been publishing for nearly fifty years now. I’ve published thirteen books and written fifteen. I’ve worked with many major publishing houses. As we all know, many things have changed. There’s a lot less money lying about. Small bookstores are shutting down. The big, impersonal chains rule. Buying online rules. Discounts rule. Even some library branches are shutting down.

But mainly I worry that books, and the habits of thought that reading shapes, the time it takes to shape such habits of thoughtfulness, are rapidly going out of style. Technology, youth, and marketplace demands have conspired in the minimization of books as we’ve known them. Is it too far-fetched to suggest that one day our books may reside in museums rather than in libraries?

Groucho Marx may not have seemed like the bookish type, but the legendary comedian once quipped, “I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.”

But that that was then and this is now, and today younger people prefer books on Kindle and online. Even in an era of book clubs, people in general still prefer quick books, easy books, books with a “point” (especially books by celebrities that are often ghostwritten by ghosts who are not great writers), books that can be listened to while driving, books that are easy to market, books that “sell,” bestsellers that can be turned into blockbuster movies or videos or small YouTube sensations or maybe even into T-shirt logos.

I fear our traditional aesthetic and intellectual standards, both for fact-checking and for the quality of writing, has plummeted. Short is now sweet, long is passé and out of fashion. Anything goes on the Internet. There’s no mediator, no editor, no expert, no grown-up in charge.

We are shortchanging coming generations, robbing them of the pleasures of savoring sparkling prose, of wrapping their minds around a complex novel or a breathtaking historical narrative.

About the Author: Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a professor emerita of psychology, a Middle East Forum fellow, and the author of fifteen books including “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003), and her latest, “An American Bride in Kabul” (2013). Her articles are archived at www.phyllis-chesler.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Loving Books, Fearing For Their Future”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz delivers lecture.
IDF Chief Rabbi: Nothing is Holy to Muslims on Temple Mount except Al Aqsa
Latest Indepth Stories
Kessim (religious leaders) mark the opening of a synagogue in the village of Gomenge, Ethopia, one of five built in Gondar with JDC aid, 1988
Courtesy of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York.

In a world where people question whether they should be engaged, we are a reminder that all Jews are responsible for one another.

Greiff-112814-Levaya

My son is seventeen; he didn’t want to talk about what happened, or give any details of the Rosh Yeshiva’s words of chizuk.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri

All involved in the Ferguson debate should learn the laws pertinent to non-Jews: the Noahide Laws.

Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Abbas has been adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem

The Jew’s crime is his presence.

Hamas’s love for death tried to have as many Palestinian civilians killed as possible

Israel recognizes the fabrication called a Palestinian nation; So what do we want from the Swedes?

Arab attacking Jews in the land date back a century, long before Israel was created or in control.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Unfortunately, at present, the rabbinate does not play a positive role in preventing abuse.

More Articles from Dr. Phyllis Chesler
Murray Greenfield

Few of the volunteers were experienced sailors, (Greenfield had been in the Merchant Marine). Few were Zionists.

Dr. David Gutmann

Hundreds of boats tried to run the British blockade on the dangerous, open seas.

My good colleague Kay is wrong about the early demise of conspiracy theories and blood libels against the Jews.

“I am surprised those Zionists are not outside protesting,” says one woman.

“Miral” is a film that has garnered an inordinate amount of media attention. In interviews, the director, Julian Schnabel, defends his right to tell the Palestinian “narrative” for what he claims is the first time. He seems not to know that many others before him have specialized in this particular line of work.

Our beloved, miraculous Jewish state is under siege.

It was assumed that the ceaseless persecution of the Jews in exile would cease once we again had our own sovereign homeland, our own army, navy, and air force.

In 1947-1948 I lived in Boro Park where, against parental and rabbinic advice, I joined a Zionist group. By 1950 I was packing machine-gun parts for Israel in a home not far from the Young Israel. But what I did as a child does not compare to what my friend and colleague David Gutmann did for love of Zion at that very time on the dangerous open seas.

Reality has become somewhat Scandinavian. It grows dark early and it is bitterly cold here in New York City and over a good portion of our fair land. Our Prince of Peace (The Norwegian Nobel, not the noble variety) is not yet asking whether “to be or not to be.” Perhaps he is not entirely convinced that “that is the question.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/loving-books-fearing-for-their-future/2009/07/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: